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Defining “Recreational Boaters” in Hawaii

Oahu's Ala Wai Harbor
Oahu's Ala Wai Harbor
Ray Pendleton

Webster defines recreation as, “refreshment by means of a pastime, agreeable exercise, or the like.” So with “boating” added to that definition, the concept appears rather simple.

However, after spending any appreciable time near our islands’ marinas, the diverse nature of our recreational boating community becomes very apparent.

To the uninitiated, perhaps the first impression upon viewing the forest of masts in Oahu’s Ala Wai Harbor would be that recreational boating is mostly about sailing. And for that harbor, they wouldn’t be far wrong.

The usually favorable trade winds and protected waters of Mamala Bay make the Ala Wai a favored mooring location for many of Oahu’s sailors. Yet, even among the sailors, there are a number of sub-types.

Take a poll and you will find some with a passion for organized competition and on any given weekend, they will be offshore “racing the winds of paradise.”

Then there are other sailors who, while perhaps not as frequently, enjoy taking their boats on extended cruises of the islands in a more individual, leisurely fashion.

Substantially less active is the category of sailor who may not have left port in years, but perhaps still dreams of sailing off into the sunset one day. For this recreational boater, simply going aboard and puttering around is the “refreshment” he or she looks for.

Along with the sailors are the powerboat owners in any marina who similarly have a wide range of boating interests, from active fishing and cruising to those whose vessels have become permanently attached to the docks.

Looking statewide, at least two-thirds of the boat owners in Hawaii don’t moor their boats in a marina and often don’t even consider themselves “recreational boaters.”

They are, of course, the owners of the trailered boats we often see early in the morning heading down the highway for a launching ramp in Waianae or Haleiwa. They most often will identify themselves only as fishermen.

It could be they feel the nature of fishing, and particularly subsistence fishing, disassociates them from recreational boating in general. Yet, there is little doubt that they too find “refreshment” in their fishing, even when the catching is poor.

Perhaps it’s this diverse nature of Hawaii’s boaters that detracts from its ability to command the attention of our state’s lawmakers when appropriations are needed for new or improved boating facilities.